On Wednesday, May 28th, I celebrated Mass at the annual Religious Jubilee at Immaculate Conception in Fayetteville. The Religious Jubilee celebration is always a joyous occasion for me. It gives me an opportunity to express my gratitude to them for their witness to the Gospel and their service to God’s people. The homily I preached on that occasion is printed below. Please join me in a prayer of gratitude and praise for the jubilarians and the witness of their lives. Pray also that young men and women will answer the Lord’s invitation to follow Him in religious life.
This is a joyous occasion! The consecrated life is a gift of God the Father to His Church through the Holy Spirit. How happy I am to be with you this evening as we celebrate those who accepted the Lord’s call and make this gift visible in our diocese. For 50, 60, 70 and 80 years our jubilarians have devoted themselves to Christ. He is the seal upon their hearts confirming a love that is strong as death and its flame a burning fire (Sg 8:6). How fitting that we gather at the Eucharist, the great sacrament of Christ’s love. Here, with and in Him, we offer our praise and thanksgiving to the Father; here we find strength and nourishment for the journey.
This past week, in reading a commentary on St. John’s Gospel, I read, “He makes lovers out of us” (Adrienne von Speyr, The Farewell Discourses). This prompted me to think about you, dear jubilarians, especially when I began to reflect on the readings chosen for Mass this evening.
God called you in love to follow Him, in a particular manner, by embracing the evangelical counsels and living in community with others who received the same invitation. You responded in love to His call. A vocation to the consecrated life has been described as a response in love to the call of love. I think you would be the first to admit that you did not initially respond to this invitation nor do you continue to respond to it through your own power and determination. With St. Paul you say, “Let him who would boast, boast in the Lord” (2 Cor 10:17). It is He who called you to religious life. By His grace, you responded many years ago; by His grace, you continue to say your “yes.”
He has made “lovers out of you.” What does this love look like? I think the Gospel for today helps us to answer this question. The wise virgins “went out to welcome the groom” (Mt 25:1). The consecrated life is an encounter with Christ. He comes. He calls. And led by the Spirit, you are ever ready to meet Him and to welcome Him. Just as our faith is not primarily speculative, abstract thought, but an encounter with Christ who reveals the living God, ever active and present in our lives, in a very special manner, your consecrated life is about welcoming the groom into your heart. He is the treasure in the field, the pearl of great price. You have given everything in exchange for this treasure. In the words of St. Alphonsus used in the beautiful hymn, “O God of Loveliness,” you know how worthy this treasure is, how sweet His countenance, “that one, one only glance to me is bliss untold.” In love, you “welcome the groom” in His word, in the sacraments, in your brothers and sisters made in God’s image and in the beauty of creation.
When the wise virgins heard, “The groom is here! Come out to greet him” (Mt 25:6), they woke up and were ready to meet him. They had prepared themselves with enough oil for their torches in case the groom was delayed in his arrival. The consecrated life is an eschatological sign, a foreshadowing of the future kingdom. “Those who have dedicated their lives to Christ cannot fail to live in the hope of meeting him, in order to be with him forever” (St. John Paul II, Vita Consecrata, 26).
Like the wise virgins your love keeps you alert and prepared to meet Christ whenever He chooses to come. Immersed in the things of the Lord, you remind us there is no lasting city here below. You teach us to be alert and attentive as we wait and to be prepared for the Lord when He comes, both in the everyday circumstances of our lives and, one day, in His final coming and the arrival of the “new heaven and new earth.”
The wise virgins were admitted to the wedding because they “kept their eyes open” (Mt 25:13) even though the groom delayed His coming. Perseverance in love is so important. I am sure you remember the “yes” you spoke on the day of your religious profession. What an act of faith! But it was not your only yes, was it? Time and again you have been asked to say “yes” to the Lord’s will, “yes” to the needs of your brothers and sisters, “yes” to the responsibilities of your ministry, “yes” to the needs of your community and “yes” to the circumstances and challenges in your respective communities that were not anticipated in the early years of your religious life.
You have persevered in communion with the Lord among the vicissitudes of life. “Initial enthusiasm is easy. Afterward though, it is time to stand firm, even along monotonous desert paths that we are called upon to traverse in this life — with the patience it takes to tread evenly, a patience in which the romanticism of the initial awakening subsides, so that only the deep, pure ‘yes’ of faith remains” (Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth).
On this occasion, it is certainly fitting to mention our responsibility to pray that men and women will accept in love the Lord’s call of love to follow Him in religious life. I personally believe the Lord continues to call men and women to religious life. As Benedict XVI exhorted us, “Do not join the ranks of the prophets of doom who proclaim the end or meaninglessness of the consecrated life in the Church in our day” (Benedict XVI, Homily on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, 2012). Please join me in prayer and fasting for vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life on the First Friday of each month.
Dear jubilarians, you continue to keep your eyes open, to be alert and prepared so you can greet the bridegroom when He comes. The Church is thankful for the witness of your love. We need men and women who are visible signs that one thing alone is necessary, namely, to remain in the Lord’s love. “Live on in me as I do in you. . . . Live on in my love. . . . Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:4, 9, 12). God’s grace makes “lovers of all of us.” Thank you for responding to this grace. Through your example may we be inspired to be “lovers” of God and our neighbor.
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.